John Soan (he added the e later) began as a bricklayer like his father before him, but his prodigious talent and his exceptional skills redefined his life.
Soane’s passion for neoclassical architecture formed the scaffolding of his life, but the reason I’m visiting the Soane Museum was his insatiable lust for collecting. Do we say hoarder? Maybe not, but every crevice, every wall, every opening, every corner, and every niche, whether vertical or horizontal, has got some artifact or collectible in it, placed by Soane himself to please himself.
I adored this goddess.
That said, my favorite aspect of the house-turned-museum is not the sculptures, artifacts, models, or paintings. It’s the way he understood the importance of light and the ingenious methods he designed to capture it.
It’s a skill well demonstrated by his breakfast room. That’s where he held meetings with potential clients, the better to impress them with morning light bounced around by four light-intensifying convex mirrors, smaller convex mirrors lining the insides of the arches, and hidden skylights pouring colored light into the room, which is also lit by a window overlooking the Monument Court.
That said, my favorite fact about Soane is he married a woman with her own opinions, which he appreciated, and she had a little dog, Fanny, that she loved.
By all accounts, Soanes adored her and considered her his most valued confidante. After her death, he kept her rooms untouched for nearly two decades.
What don’t I like? The whole miserable, sordid story of his two sons. I don’t know what kind of father he was but they are on the record as bitter, angry, spiteful, and greedy. You can look up the whole wretched account if you like. I’m turning back to the light.
Fun facts: The design of K6 phone box, the red public phone box we can still see on the streets of London was based on his design for his wife’s tomb.
He won the gold medal at the Royal Academy for a triumphant bridge he didn’t build.
Mad King George funded his Grand Tour.
The cheerful yellow paint was originally made of two parts lead based pigments. Hold your breath.
The Picture Room is a puzzle of vertical spaces created to hang nire picture, much like those in the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum in Boston. Also walls become windows
The little dog settled so comfortably in Eliza’s lap was a Toy Manchester Terrier.
The abundant hair portrayed on Soane’s marble bust was a toupee.
After an extensive visit, that included an excellent staff-led tour of the museum, we took a breather In the lovely well-maintained park across the street. Em and I watched a group of frisky dogs chase balls across the grass. It was one of the best half hours of the trip.
I thought I’d be up for more art and went back to the Courtauld, but I tapped out after an hour peacefully sketching a Parmigianino drawing.